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Maryland football 2015 defensive backs preview

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The veteran unit is one of the team's biggest question marks going into 2015

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

After a season where the Terps ranked second-to-last in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per game at 234.3, Maryland returns a veteran-laden defensive backfield.

Cornerback Jeremiah Johnson was the only member of the starting unit to graduate, and the team brings back a star junior, several experienced seniors and several raw but talented sophomores hoping to bring down that yards-allowed-per-game average.

The team announced that safety Zach Dancel would be transferring earlier in the offseason. This shouldn't affect the group very much, as Dancel was likely to be a second or third-string safety.

Here is who and what you can expect to see from Maryland's defensive backs in 2015.

Starters:

Cornerback:

Will Likely: The rising junior and walking pun led the team with six interceptions last year, two of which he returned for touchdowns. The rest of the team combined for three picks. With nose tackle Darius Kilgo moving on to the NFL, Likely is not only the star of the defensive backfield, but of the defense altogether. As top dog in the secondary, Likely will often be going up against the other team's best wide receiver, so this season should be a big test for him.

Sean Davis: The senior started every game last year for the Terps, moving from safety to corner late in the season, and he'll be back opposite Likely this year. Davis was second on the team in tackles and first on the team in solo tackles, and was second on the team in passes defensed with eight. If he can turn in a solid season opposite Likely, the Terps could end up with a formidable secondary.

Safety:

Anthony Nixon: This senior also started every game in 2014. Nixon had one of the team's non-Likely interceptions and was fifth on the team in tackles.

A.J. Hendy: The grad student missed the 2014 season due to suspension, but he started three games in 2013 and played in 12. Hendy was named the fastest man at the Baltimore Combine when he was in high school, and that speed will be key when he and Nixon are providing help for Likely and Davis.

When you get to the bench, positions matter less. Players will play nickel, safety and corner often interchangeably due to need and may switch positions due to injury. Even though they aren't starters, these guys should hear their names called often and will be first up if one of the starters gets injured.

First off the bench:

Alvin Hill: The senior and team barber started the team's first four games last year before missing the remainder of the season with a right knee injury, for which he was granted an extra year of eligibility. Hill figures to be the team's first back off the bench in nickel and other extra-defensive back situations, and could even challenge Davis for a starting spot.

Denzel Conyers: The junior college transfer safety was ruled ineligible for 2014 because he didn't qualify academically, but Conyers should be on the second-team defense unless a sophomore overtakes him in preseason practice.

Antwaine Carter: The rising sophomore had himself an impressive spring game, grabbing an interception off Perry Hills. Edsall had high praise for Carter after the game, saying he could get some playing time in 2015 if he puts some more weight on.

Daniel Ezeagwu: The sophomore received a medical redshirt for 2014 after suffering a season-ending injury four games into the year. Ezeagwu was practicing with the second and even sometimes the first team last year, so he could make a name for himself when he returns to full health.

Elvis Dennah: The rising sophomore only appeared in four games last year, but one of them was the Foster Farms Bowl. If the coaching staff trusted him enough to play in the biggest game of the year, expect him to see at least some playing time at the backup safety position now that Dancel is gone.

Jarrett Ross: The junior played in 12 games in 2014, so he will provide depth at backup corner for the Terps. Expect him to get playing time every game and to challenge for a starting spot his senior year.

Josh Woods: The sophomore appeared in the final eight games for the Terps, and will be competing with Ezeagwu, Dennah and Carter for playing time at the end of the depth chart.

Milan Collins: A former star quarterback at Bishop McNamara, Collins has battled injuries during his Maryland career but has quite a lot of promise at the safety position.

Developing:

D'Andre Payne- the transfer from Tennessee will have to sit 2015 out due to transfer rules, but should receive significant playing time in 2016.

Darnell Savage- the three-star recruit out of Delaware will probably redshirt this season as he is unlikely to crack the rotation, but should receive a few opportunities in 2016 while being groomed for an impact role in 2017.